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Still-Vacant Taylor-Grady House Among Historic Athens’ 2022 ‘Places in Peril’

The Taylor-Grady House. Credit: Blake Aued

The furnishings remain, but the Junior League of Athens has been gone for months from the historic Taylor-Grady House on Prince Avenue. It isn’t clear when another tenant will occupy the Greek Revival building, but it isn’t likely to be soon, according to Athens-Clarke County officials.

The county sent out a request for proposals (RFP) last summer, after the Junior League opted not to renew its lease because ACC raised the annual rent from $1 to almost $40,000, plus the cost of utilities, although the new rent could have been reduced to less than $8,000 if the Junior League successfully applied for a community benefits reduction, as other nonprofits that lease ACC buildings did. The sole applicant was Epting Events, an Athens-based catering and events company, in partnership with Historic Athens. Their goal was “to preserve and activate the Taylor-Grady House,” according to the 57-page proposal the two submitted in September. 

In the fall, the ACC property committee—composed of Commissioners Allison Wright, Mariah Parker (who has since resigned) and Patrick Davenport, along with staff members—met with officials from Historic Athens and Epting Events to learn more about their application. The information then went to a scoring committee, Wright said, which “didn’t act on the application.”

Mayor Kelly Girtz asked the property committee to re-examine and revise the RFP in order to begin the application process once again. With new members joining the commission in January, Girtz appointed Commissioner John Culpepper to the committee. County officials have said a new RFP will be sent out most likely this month or next month.

Officials with Epting Events and Historic Athens are concerned about the fate of the furniture and furnishings in the Taylor-Grady House. Some pieces date from the early 1800s. Moving them without damaging them would require great delicacy and skill. 

According to their first proposal, Historic Athens and Epting Events wanted to operate the Taylor-Grady House as a “public amenity, event facility, office space, community hub, and museum,” open for events such as retreats, meetings, poetry readings, conferences, concerts and weddings.

Those plans are now all for naught. At a meeting on Jan. 24, the newly reconstituted property committee agreed to several changes to the original RFP. The county wants to enter into a contract with a “sole entity,” not a combination of a for-profit and a nonprofit group such as Epting Events and Historic Athens.

Currently, there is no commercial kitchen on the grounds, and there’s not going to be one. The Epting Events/Historic Athens application mentioned installing a kitchen in one of the outbuildings, “but that’s not going to happen,” said assistant county manager Josh Edwards. “You can’t have a hood coming out of a historic building.”

The RFP will specify that the applicant has the use of only the second and third floors of the Taylor-Grady House, not the first floor, which is considered the basement level. The applicant will have an “interior easement,” Wright said, allowing them to go up and down the interior staircase, but they will not be able to use the first floor for storage or another use.

County officials want to keep the first floor for possible use as office space for county staff, though retrofitting and upgrading the 4,000 square feet could cost as much as $250,000. And when the new courthouse is built, there might not be such pressing needs for staff space as there are now.

“The Taylor-Grady House is an architectural masterpiece that should be accessible to the community as a museum and National Historic Landmark,” said Historic Athens Executive Director Tommy Valentine. “While the current RFP being proposed isn’t compatible with that type of use, if given a fair chance, we’d love to partner with the city to ensure its future as a hub for community and education.” [Rebecca McCarthy]

Other ‘Places in Peril’

The Taylor-Grady House “and its priceless decorative furnishings collection now face an uncertain future,” according to Historic Athens, and it’s not alone. The preservation group recently released a list of five properties and neighborhoods that are threatened by development or neglect.

The Athens-Clarke County Commission created a Reese Street Historic District after the Confederate-themed Kappa Alpha fraternity built a house there in 2006, but much of the Reese-West Hancock area remains unprotected. African Americans settled in the neighborhood after the Civil War, and it became known in particular for its educational institutions. But it’s now threatened by student housing developments and gentrification as downtown expands west. 

Nearby Newtown, north of Pulaski Street and east of Barber Street, is another historically Black neighborhood undergoing changes. It’s notable for the 1880s Newtown School—now Hurley Funeral Home—as well as its “rich history” and “unique architecture.”

Normaltown is named for another local education landmark, the State Normal School, a teachers’ college that later became the Navy Supply Corps School, then the campus of the Augusta University/UGA Medical Partnership. “Since that time, Normaltown has developed one of the most recognizable and beautiful commercial corridors in the area, as well as a distinct and historic residential neighborhood,” according to Historic Athens, but it lacks protection. Former ACC Commissioner Tim Denson organized a neighborhood meeting last year to discuss a local historic district.

Also off Prince Avenue but closer to downtown, the Bottleworks Historic Area—named for a former Coca-Cola bottling plant—is surrounded on all sides by designated historic districts, but isn’t in one itself despite being a historic landmark in its own right and containing some of Athens’ most recognizable buildings.

Out of three previous “Places in Peril” lists, many neighborhoods and buildings remain unprotected, including the Whitehall community, the Frank C. Maddox Center, the original Judia Jackson Harris Elementary School, the Tudor-style mansion at 337 S. Milledge Ave., UGA’s Legion Pool, the Carr’s Hill neighborhood and the current planning department building/former library on Dougherty Street.

According to Historic Athens, progress has been made on preserving the West Broad School, the 1916 Sandy Creek pump station, the St. James Baptist Church cemetery, Central Baptist Cemetery, the Athens Masonic Association building/former Reese Street School and a one-room schoolhouse at Billups Grove Baptist Church. SPLOST 2020 included funding to turn the Beech Haven site on the Middle Oconee River into a park, and the commission approved a West Downtown Historic District in 2021. 

However, The Varsity—listed in 2021—was not saved. Sold to Atlanta-based Fuqua Development, the property is slated to become a mixed-use development.

To be eligible for “Places in Peril,” locations must be listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, meaning they must be at least 50 years old and largely intact. They must also face some sort of threat and have a grassroots group working on their behalf. [Blake Aued]